swamped canoe?

I read this on another forum with regard to the Nova Craft “Prospector 15”:

“…When swamped this boat is bloody difficult to remain upright in, i was trying to bail it out havnig tipped it and it just kept rolling over and taking on more water so i gave up and tried to paddle it to shore. Pretty hairy i have to say. …”

Is this typical of most swamped canoes? I’d imagine that things would be a lot better if there were float bags fore and aft. Thoughts? Thanks.

Yes and yes

– Last Updated: Aug-10-15 10:44 PM EST –

Whoever wrote that review was pretty clueless. A swamped canoe can't provide the opposing force to being tipped or leaned that an empty canoe does. The only water it displaces is due to the volume of its own skin (or float tanks, but the tanks on boats so equipped are usually very tiny), so changes in displacement distribution due to tipping are virtually nonexistent. All swamped canoes tip and roll at the slightest excuse.

Yes, float bags make a huge difference. With large air bags, a swamped boat is a whole lot less close to being truly swamped. How much do end bags help? Not nearly as much as bigger bags, but I've never used end bags and can't quantify that statement.

Float bags
are useful to allow your canoe to style the rapid after ejecting it’s occupant(s). That is, they do reduce the volume of water taken on when swamped and allow the boat to float higher and, hopefully, avoid a pin and wrap. Even with a bagged boat you can still get a lot of water in & that can make for interesting balance as the water sloshes back & forth. Some WW paddlers have fitted a battery powered pump to allow them to clear water during & after a run.

I’ll let someone else chime in on float bags & big water. I don’t understand the limits & concerns with wind & waves & canoes in big lakes. The price of admission for identifying the limits seems rather high to me. I try to be conservative when making crossings in big water & conditions.


Unless your float bags
take up the entire canoe, there will be water in the canoe.

And a couple of inches of water sloshing around makes a huge difference in stability. Anyone with a modicum of experience knows this and why its a good idea to always carry a bailer and not try to second guess when they will or won’t need it.

Just for fun, its cool to heel the boat over so it ships a little water, then paddle, then heel it over a little more so it ships water. Eventually the boat will roll over and get you wet.

Kids love to do this. Adults are often petrified.

boats vary
It is not uncommon for skilled whitewater open boaters to roll up in a rapid and continue to paddle through with water in the boat, so it can certainly be done. Yes, generally they will have the portion of the boat they don’t occupy filled with flotation bags and sometimes supplemental foam.

My experience is that boats vary considerably in how they handle after taking on water, and it is not easy to predict their behavior from examining the hull.

Water is heavy and moving water has a great deal of inertia. In any boat, the inertia of water sloshing back and forth has to be anticipated and compensated for. It is a skill that can be developed but does not usually come naturally.

When partially swamped

– Last Updated: Aug-11-15 1:56 PM EST –

I'd agree that boats vary when partially swamped, and yes, the moving weight of sloshing water is the most obvious issue to deal with at such times. Fully swamped boats, Royalex ones at least, are so close to being fully submerged that they are approaching the point of having no stability at all, and are nearly free to just spin around. I just thought that the "degree of swampage" bears clarifying.

Maybe two different things
Float bags, good big ones, should provide enough lift that you can get back in and empty out remaining water via a bailer or whatever. In open water at least - in whitewater there is not likely to be the time to mess with bailing.

But any boat with water sloshing around in the bottom is going to be more unstable than without it. I don’t know canoes well enough to talk about a given model, but the answer is probably specific to how much water is in the canoe and the stability profile of that hull.

The easy way…

Swamped Canoe
It is always interesting when you try to eddy out to bail with a canoe half full of water. Yikes!

You better hope that eddyline is not a real sharp one or standby for a smim.

high, wide floatation is what resists
rolling. Floatation in ends and elsewhere makes the boat roll up higher so less water is in it to start with. In a fully swamped but bagged canoe you are paddling the air bags. The old tractor tire innertube had the advantage that it could be strapped to the gunnels right and left to keep it from running off to the high side. Sliding off the seat onto the bottom of the boat also helps but is not so easily done in the moment.

eddying out
Eddying out with a boat full of water can be quite difficult. Unless the eddy is sizable, even if you hit and cross the eddy line high with good angle, the boat is so heavy and has so much momentum that, although the eddy current may turn it, it continues on downstream backwards out the downstream end of the eddy.

This is especially true for large tandems. And with two people in the boat, and all the water that fills the “cockpit” areas, even with a lot of flotation a swamped tandem can ride so low that both gunwales are submerged amidships. Which makes a pump useless and bailing fruitless.

There was a time
when we had no flotation and we just had to be more careful. To some extent the flotation makes us lazy paddlers.

If by that you mean that it makes it more practical and less risky to own, use, and especially carry lightweight layup boats, then yes…

The truly lazy are in kayaks. :wink:

Float bags?
I have to agree with Rival 52 that float bags are more about keeping a boat from wrapping and pinning in a rapid than they are about displacing water. My whitewater boat has big float bags fore and aft, but fill it with water and it’s still tough to paddle.


I also agree with pblanc that a swamped canoe wants to carry its momentum downstream – usually in a straight line. Sometimes the easiest solution is just to go along for the ride. Once I’m in a position where I feel stable, I’ll usually try to spin the boat upstream and ferry to shore so I can dump it out. If you need to get out of a rapid quickly, an eddy turn may be your only option, but your forward momentum will want to flip you over as you turn. If you swim, hopefully you will end up in (or at least near) the eddy.

In whitewater, the real trick is to keep water out of the boat by quartering waves and using boat leans to block the water from coming in. I have to admit, I’m really bad at it. You will often see me paddling to shore to empty the boat.

Unless you are playing around in waves or running whitewater, though, the likelihood of swamping should be pretty low.


– Last Updated: Aug-18-15 5:21 PM EST –

If you paddle, it is a question of time before you get swamped, so practice beforehand. I have paddled some large rapids and completely swamped canoes and made it to shore upright. Pblanc alludes to the same concept.

All boats are unwieldy when full of water, but flotation bags or camping equipment lashed in place helps to displace a lot of the water.

Not my meaning -

– Last Updated: Aug-17-15 8:45 AM EST –

poor choice of words. What I mean to say is that with respect to canoes, flotation has the unintended consequence of making us somewhat less skillful or careful when we paddle because the consequence of a mistake in paddling or judgment is less severe.

My personal goal is to be as skillful and successful as possible paddling a traditional canoe in challenging water and conditions. The idea, for me, is to travel safely in wilderness waters where no help is available. That to me is the definition of a competent paddler. For example, I have moved away from royalex and composite hulls toward wood and canvas for some of my paddling. Others see it differently, and that is fine. Its a big world and lots of room for different views.

And I was trying to be funny
Something else at which I lack skill.

I actually have a different take on it. Using flotation makes risky moves (not unreasonably risky, but above our skill level) less hazardous, especially to the boat. Pushing past our skill level raises our learning curve. Resulting increased skill improves our safety when it really matters.

Flotation can be a crutch or a learning tool. Your choice.